Real Art Always Has a Price

“God, Mathew, you don’t get it, do you? That’s not what real art is about.”

Those had been the words Abigail threw at me during our very first fight.

Sitting here now, writing this, I still wonder what real art is truly about.

The same uncertainty had been the very core of Abigail’s obsession. An obsession that spiraled out of control, and drove me from her apartment three days ago in a state of utter despair.

Ever since I first met Abigail, I knew there was something special about her.

It was about a year ago that a friend of mine dragged me to a concerto at his music school.

I never was a fan of the finer arts or classical music for that matter. As I sat next to him, listening to the performance, I had to fight the urge to take out my phone. Needless to say, I was bored to death.

This boredom evaporated when she started to play. She was a delicate, almost fragile thing, dwarfed by the harp she was playing on.

Her fingers moved over the strings, barely touching them, plucking at them with a subtlety almost too sensitive for the instrument. Yet, the sounds she created, the melody she played, it was so distinct it overshadowed every other instrument on the stage.

I leaned forward, staring at her with wide eyes. Never before had I cared about music performances. Still, in the presence of raw talent and absolute skill, even I was touched. I sat there, completely absorbed by her music.

My friend noticed my stares and smiled.

“That’s Abigail,” he whispered to me.

“She’s,” I started but didn’t find the words for this new feeling inside of me.

“Amazing? Unbelievable? Yeah, she’s by far the most talented student at our school.”

That’s when I first saw Abigail, and that was also the moment when I fell in love with her.

After pestering my friend for weeks, he finally introduced me to her. She was a timid, shy girl and somewhat plain to look at. When I asked her out, she was taken aback, but agreed.

We hit it off instantly, and it wasn’t long before we moved in together. I guess what they say is true: opposites attract. While Abigail was a musician, I was a businessman. Two occupations that couldn’t have been more different.

Abigail was, as I said, a taciturn person, never uttering more than a few words at a time. When she talked about music, though, she was a completely different person. Her eyes lit up, and her voice showed none of her usual timidity. She could go on about it for hours.

I guess it was due to her father’s influence. Abigail never got to know her mother and was brought up by her father. The man had been an eccentric yet vastly talented artist.

“True art is different,” she’d start. “It’s not what you see or hear, it’s about emotions, about feeling. Dad had always said he didn’t want people to simply see what was in his paintings. He wanted them to feel and experience. He wanted them to smell the flowers in his still life and to taste the wine that accompanied them. That’s what true art was like to him. It’s the same with music, Mathew. It’s not about what you hear, it’s about what it does to you.”

I always smiled when she went on like this. Her world was so different from mine, she was different. I guess that’s why I was so drawn to her.

Abigail’s music was beautiful, breathtaking even, yet for some reason, she was never satisfied with herself. She practiced for hours on end, frantically and half-mad at times. It wasn’t strange for me to wake up to her practicing, and often she continued long after I’d gotten home. When she finally stopped, in the late evening, her fingers were often blistered and sticky with sweat.

Our first real fight happened a month after she’d moved in. As I sat on the couch listening to her play, an idea came to my mind.

“Why don’t you start a YouTube channel, Abby? I bet lots of people would love to listen to you play. Maybe it could be your big break?”

Abigail’s fingers froze, and she gave me a look of sheer frustration.

“God, Mathew, you don’t get it, do you? That’s not what real art, real music, is about. That’s not how it works! You need to be there to truly experience it!” she said, her voice cracking.

“Can you feel this?” she asked, plucking at a string. “The vibrations? The change in the air? Oh, I can tell, you don’t. I mean, how could you?” she laughed at that, shaking her head.

“It’s all part of the music, all part of true art, but someone like you-”

“Someone like me?” I demanded. “You know what, Abby, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry I don’t get what real art is about!”

With that, I got up and left the room. I loved this girl, but at times her pretentiousness was hard for me to take. Before long, it had started to take a strain on our relationship.

It wasn’t the only thing it influenced, though. Abigail herself started to spiral out of control as well, and her passion slowly transformed into an obsession.

A few weeks later, I returned from work and found her in a state of utter despair. Tears were streaming from her face as she stared at the shattered remains of a harp.

“Abby! What’s going on!?”

I rushed to her side and put my arms around her. When she stared at me, I almost cringed back. Her eyes were filled with nothing but pure, hard rage.

“Why? Why can’t I do it?!”

“What are you talking about?”

“This!” she screamed and pointed at the broken harp. “This THING, it’s nothing garbage! It’s not real music, none of it is! It’s nothing but a charade, all because of this damned thing!”

With that, she picked up one of the pieces of the harp and hurled it across the room.

“But, you’re amazing!” I said, taking hold of her shaking hand.

She shot me another glare before she freed herself from my embrace.

“You still don’t get it,” she mumbled to herself as she left the room.

Yeah, I don’t, I thought to myself but didn’t dare say the words out loud.

It should only be the first of many similar outbursts, but before long, her obsession took a different nature.

In the weeks to come, Abigail transformed our living room into nothing short of a workshop. Abigail spent her father’s inheritance money lavishly. She purchased stacks of books about musical theory, harps, and their construction. Soon after, she started to buy instruments, exquisite wood, strings, and various tools. It all covered the floor in a chaotic mess. And in the middle of it all sat Abigail, feverishly working.

By that time, we hadn’t talked in days. She’d completely ignored me, too obsessed with her work.

“Abby, babe, what’s all this?” I finally asked one day, when I couldn’t take her behavior anymore.

“An instrument is not just a tool; it’s supposed to be an extension, no, a part of yourself. That’s where I was wrong all along. Of course, I couldn’t play anything worthwhile. I was so stupid.”

“What do you mean?”

She laughed at my question.

“Dad always said the same thing. The brush needs to be an extension of yourself. He always made his own brushes, you know? He picked the materials, bound the bristle. He did it all by himself. Only that way, he said, could he truly create art.”

“So, you’re trying to build your own harp?”

For the first time in a long while, she smiled at me, her eyes alight by the same fire I’d so come to love.

“Yes, Mathew, yes! I need to do it, you see? It’s impossible otherwise! Come here, I show you! You see this? That’s mahogany wood, and this here, its cedar.”

She went on and on, rambling about the different materials, showing me books and sketches.

I didn’t know what to say.

“Aren’t you taking this a bit too far? Building your own instrument? Do you even know how to do it? Why are you going to such extremes just for-?”

“Just for WHAT!?” she screamed at me. She threw the sketches she’d been holding to the ground and glared at me with such intensity that I took a step back. For a moment I was afraid she’d jump me.

“You, you imbecile! How could I’ve thought you’d get it? Oh, how stupid you are, Abigail, of course, he wouldn’t. Right, Mathew? You don’t understand a damned thing of what I’m trying to do!”

I stood there, listened to her outburst, and finally shook my head. This wasn’t the woman I’d fallen in love with. The person who stood in front of me now, who threw these vile words at me, I didn’t know who it was anymore.

“Abby, I don’t think this is working anymore. I can’t deal with this, with the way you’re acting. I’m sorry, but maybe we should take a break.”

She looked at me, and for a moment, a sad smile showed on her face. Then she shrugged and started to gather her things.

“Fine.” One simple word uttered more to herself than to me.

The next day, when I returned from work, I was greeted by an empty living room. There was no trace of Abigail or any of the various things she’d purchased.

The end of a relationship is never smooth. Even after Abigail had changed so much, I still loved her. Yet, however much I tried to contact her or find out where she lived, it seemed futile. For all I knew, she’d completely vanished and cut herself off from society.

That was until three days ago. My phone started ringing, showing me an unknown number. When I answered, I heard a weak, timid voice. It was Abigail.

“I finally figured it out, Mathew,” she said, “what it means to create true art.”

“Abby, my god, we haven’t talked in so long. Are you alright?”

She didn’t answer. Instead, I heard a sound that might very well have been scoffing.

“There’s no time Mathew. I have to show it to someone, please, you’re the only one I can think of! You need to come here!” there was a sudden determination, a sudden urgency to her words that made my skin crawl.

“Where’s here? Where are you?”

After she’d given me her new address, I went on my way to the outskirts of town. Out there, she’d moved into an old, long-abandoned building.

As much as I tried to deny it, I still had feelings for her, even after all that time. Maybe, just maybe we could make this work again…

I rang the doorbell once, twice, and then a third time, but no one answered. When I finally called her on the phone, she told me the location of a spare key she’d hidden outside.

The moment I opened the door to her apartment, I gagged. A disgusting, putrid smell hung heavy in the air. It was a mixture of rotten food, sweat, and something strangely metallic.

“Mathew, come in,” I heard her from inside.

The light in the apartment was dim, but I could tell that it was in an utter mess. Dirty clothes and rotten food covered the floor. Various tools and materials were scattered all over the place. It was almost impossible to breathe in this damp hell, and I had to cover my mouth as I made my way inside.

“Abby, what the hell’s all this?”

Her answer was nothing but a weak smile, and with a shaking hand, she bode me to come closer to her.

Even in the half-dark, I could tell how sick she looked. Her skin was pale, almost ashen, and she seemed to be covered in sweat. She was sitting in a lonely chair, her legs covered by a heavy, stained blanket.

My eyes grew wide when I saw her like this.

“Holy shit, Abby, are you okay? You look terrible!”

I took a few steps towards, but when I saw the instrument by her side, I stopped.

It was a ghastly, bleak harp, different from any instrument I’d ever seen before. It looked raw and unrefined, and no more than half a dozen strings lined it.

“What’s that thing?”

Instead of answering, she smiled at me, and her delicate fingers reached out for the instrument.

She winced, as she plucked one of the strings, and a deep, unnatural sound rose from it. It lingered in the room much longer than it should’ve, and I could almost feel it reverberating inside of me.

My eyes grew wide at the sensation, but before I could say anything, Abigail began to play.

Her eyes were wide, her face twisted in a pained expression, and I could hear her moan as she plucked the strings.

There are no words to describe the music she created with that thing. Notes and tones I’d never heard before, never thought possible with a harp. She combined them into a cacophony, a melody that was as disturbing as it was beautiful.

I couldn’t move. This music, this melody, it was out of this world. Each note reverberated inside of my body, stabbing at my heart, no, my very soul. I felt tears streaming from my eyes as I listened to her otherworldly performance.

And then I saw it. Abigail had been right; I never understood what she’d been talking about. It was her music. I could see it wafting through the air, moving towards me and surrounding me. I felt the sound crawling into my ears, lingering inside of my head. For the first time, I truly experienced her music, and for the first time, I was truly afraid of her.

When Abigail stopped, I felt weak, tired, and exhausted. For a moment, I almost lost my balance and had to lean against the wall, breathing heavily.

“Do you see it now?” she asked in a low voice as she withdrew her fingers from the instrument.

At a loss for words, I could only nod. Once I’d found my voice again, I could only ask a single question.

“How are you able to play like this? How is something like that even possible?”

As an answer, she pulled the dirty blanket away. I screamed when I saw the bloodied, festering stumps of her legs.

“Oh my god, Abby, what did you do!? What the hell did you do?!”

I stared at the ghastly, bleak harp again, and I realized what it was made of. Bones. The bones of Abigail’s legs. Then those strings, sinews, they had to be her… Dear god. My eyes grew wide, and I took a step back in disgust when I saw that they didn’t end at the bottom of the instrument. No, they continued on and vanished inside of the festering flesh of the stumps of her legs.

“Why?” I mumbled as I stumbled backward due to the sheer insanity at play in front of me.

Her face distorted into a wide, manic grin.

“I told you, I finally understood it. You see Mathew, true art has a price. It always has a price.”